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Extra info for A Review of Criticality Accidents [LA-13638]

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This accident occurred at 16:35 near the end of the last workday before the New Year’s holiday. A reconstruction of significant events indicates that unexpected plutonium rich solids, which should have been handled separately, were washed from two vessels into a single large vessel that contained dilute aqueous and organic solutions. After most of the aqueous solution had been removed from this vessel, the remaining approximately 200 l of material, including nitric acid wash, was transferred to the 1,000 l , 1000 mm diameter, stainless steel tank in which the accident occurred.

A central pipe that entered the bottom of the vessel in which the reaction occurred was found after the accident to contain dibutyl phosphate with a significant loading of plutonium. It is suggested that this started as a layer of tributyl phosphate in carbon tetrachloride on top of the aqueous plutonium solution. The heat and radiation from the fission reaction could have driven off the CCl4 and converted most of the remaining organic to dibutyl phosphate. The denser dibutyl phosphate, having extracted plutonium, could have gone to the bottom of the vessel and into the pipe, where it would contribute little to the system reactivity.

Later, radiation safety personnel entered a corridor located about 10 to 15 m from the room to measure the radiation level. Using a portable PMR– 1gamma sensing device it was determined that the radiation level exceeded the 18 R/h upper range of the instrument. Facility managers, the head of the site safety organization, and the site technical specialist arrived at the building about an hour after the criticality alarm sounded. Following their arrival, the facility managers and the technical specialist began interviewing personnel and reviewing measurements and working documents to locate the site of the accident.

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